Book Thirtytwo: A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother

A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother, Rachel Cusk

Oof, this is not happy-go-lucky new mother reading. This is serious stuff. Writerly stuff. In fact, pretty depressing stuff. Rachel Cusk, in other words, is no Jools Oliver. But it is quite good. She paints a very surreal world where it feels as if the only inhabitants are her and her newborn daughter. Other characters, including her infrequently mentioned husband, float in and out like ghosts. I'm sure this is on purpose, as it brings you closer to her own feelings of being trapped by the experience of motherhood… this is a very claustrophobic book. I have a feeling that reading this right after having my own child and floating through my own little ghost world was maybe not the best idea. It made me feel isolated and strange.

I do admire her honesty, though. I've always thought it very unfair to expect new mothers to be instantly in love with their new children and to automatically be perfect parents. With hormones surging and this new, strange being in your life, making the transition to motherhood feels awkward and foreign. And so she writes about this jarring change in identity, from being a woman who can read magazines or visit with friends whenever one chooses, or be defined by one's career, to being completely beholden to an infant's sleep and feeding schedule.

But, with all that said, part of me just thinks, "Oh, get over yourself. All you did was have a baby." Women do this every day all around the world and it isn't some big existential crisis. Here in America (and Europe, I suppose) we're so self-involved. It's probably good for us to think about something other than ourselves for a change. Being so wrapped up in our identity and sense of individuality can't be healthy. Can it?


Anonymous season said...

I just recently read an essay by her in Granta about her divorce and had similar thoughts about her being wrapped up in her own identity and not being quite sympathetic to others' - in this case her husband's. It made me feel conflicted about being a stay at home mom with feminist tendencies. Yet, I enjoyed her writing. Strange how that happens.

I'm not sure I could read this book now, though. I had trouble transitioning into motherhood with my first daughter - although, not too much that I didn't want to have another! I hope you're doing well. I look forward to meeting the little one sometime soon.

August 1, 2011 at 10:01 PM  

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